As I ponder purchasing furniture for my first ever study, I have also been pondering what a writer needs to write. Some writers need silence; others music; Annie Dillard reportedly papers over the windows in her study, lest she be distracted from her (glorious) work (if you haven’t read An American Childhood, you’re missing a gem). It’s not only a physical space in which to write that has been lacking to date; I also work full time in a demanding job, as well as being the parent of a teenager. When people ask me how I find time to write, I often say, I don’t know. Because I don’t. I make time, obviously, either in holidays or on weekends or during insomniac hours or on trains or instead of watching television. Maybe it’s not the how: it’s the why. Why, when each hour of life is so precious, would I spend time writing, when the world would neither know nor care if I spent my rare hours of free time at the beach, or planting out my vege bed, or seeing much neglected friends and family?
Like most mid-career (shudder) authors, I’ve wished I lived in a culture where I could live off my writing (or wrote the kinds of books that would make it possible in this one), or had a sugar daddy, or could magically have my mortgage paid off, or could win a massive prize that meant I could dedicate myself (in my shiny new study) to writing. Some days, it really bites that I have to expend energy where I would rather not; some days I resent the demands that mean I can’t do what I love. Virginia Woolf wrote that women writers need money and a room of my own, but I’ve managed without either. Have I written The Waves? Maybe not. Has the pressure of working changed the kinds of books that I’ve written? Absolutely. It’s no coincidence that my best novel was written when I had the year of grace afforded me by an Australia Council grant: working full time prevents me from traversing that kind of territory again.
Because of what they cost me, I love my books like the unruly children they are, even if they’re not top of the class, or the most popular, or the best looking. I love them for their soul, their character. They each have their friends, their circle who would miss them if they weren’t there. Each one is a product of its time: they could only have appeared when they did, and, if I hadn’t seized the moment, their story would have passed unnoticed, unrecorded.
So having a room to write in is a luxury, not a necessity. To write, all you need is an ear attuned to the story that is only for you – and to write it.